TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian weekly Ya Lesarat al-Hussein (Those Who Want to Avenge the Blood of [Shiite Imam] Hussein) is once again in hot water — this time over a controversial headline about Iranian actors. On July 6, it ran a full page with pictures of actors next to their wives at the Hafez Film Festival, accompanied by a short piece titled “Who is the 'dayuth' [cuckold]?” The story goes on to explain that a dayuth — which is a particularly vulgar word in Persian — is a man who is oblivious to his spouse’s sexual relations with other men, in a seeming critical reference to the way the actors’ wives dressed.
Ya Lesarat al-Hussein belongs to the hard-line Ansar-e Hezbollah, a group that has always been controversial over its positions in Iranian politics.
In an interview published on Ya Lesarat’s website, Sadegh Koushki, a hard-line cultural expert, said, “Is there a clear example of cultural indifference? If you ask anyone with even little knowledge of Islamic laws and religious ethics about the Hafez Film Festival, he would surely say that this festival is an example of cultural indifference due to the improper hijab of the actresses [who were present at the event].”
A series of actors and prominent political figures have issued statements of protest in response to Ya Lesarat’s story. Popular actor Shahab Hosseini, who won the award for best actor at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, wrote on Instagram, “Your fingers aren’t worthy of holding the honored pen. Drop it and join your fellows in Daesh [Islamic State]. … Shame on you.” Meanwhile, famous actress Behnoosh Bakhtiari, who has 5 million followers on Instagram, wrote, “Whoever is a dayuth is better than he who insults a Muslim and accuses his wife of being a harlot.” The House of Cinema and Association of Iranian actors, among other guilds and cultural groups, also condemned Ya Lesarat’s story and called for legal action against the weekly.
Meanwhile, prominent former lawmaker Ahmad Tavakoli, a conservative who shares some views with the moderates, came out to criticize both the actors and Ya Lesarat. “[These] actors and their wives are losers, but Ya Lesarat is a greater loser; I invite both to repentance, because God loves the repentant. But the acceptance of Ya Lesarat’s repentance is conditioned on apologizing to the actors,“ Tavakoli wrote on Telegram. Referring to the possibility of Ya Lesarat facing legal action, Tavakoli continued, “They [Ya Lesarat] should at first think of saving themselves from the blazes of hellfire and then think about correcting the behavior of others.”
Mohammad Reza Aref, the head of the Reformist Omid (Hope) faction in parliament, said, “The majority of our arts community are not only not in conflict with the values [of the Islamic Revolution], but they are also promoting such values. “ He added, “A publication shouldn’t allow itself to insult the influential class of society, namely artists. If the language of insult and disrespect becomes popular in the media, we will face lawlessness.”
Moreover, in response to a question by an Iranian news agency, Grand Ayatollah Mousa Shobeiri Zanjani said that those who attribute someone as dayuth could face legal punishment such as "tazir." In Islamic Law, "tazir" refers to punishment for offenses at the discretion of a judge or ruler of the state.
In this vein, Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance spokesman Hossein Noushabadi announced Aug. 1 that Ya Lesarat’s publishing license had been revoked. Noushabadi said, “Given the recent event, and the insult this weekly made against the artists … the Press Supervisory Board canceled the license of the weekly, and the weekly is temporarily banned.”
It is noteworthy that Ya Lesarat earlier this year faced another ban — that time for cursing former female Vice President Shahindokht Molaverdi. However, the judiciary later allowed the weekly to resume operations.
At present, despite the Press Supervisory Board’s decision to ban Ya Lesarat, the weekly has not stopped operating and continues to publish. Noushabadi believes this problem lies in the lack of collaboration between the judiciary and the Press Supervisory Board.
In response, Abdolhamid Mohtasham, the managing editor of Ya Lesarat and the secretary of Ansar-e Hezbollah, said, “We have permission from the judiciary to publish Ya Lesarat, and this permission comes from a court that is superior to the Press Supervisory Board.”
In its latest edition, Ya Lesarat defends its position, citing a few hard-line clerics. Ayatollah Rouhollah Gharahi told the weekly, “They [critics of Ya Lesarat’s controversial story] attack to silence [others], but you should perform your religious duty.” Moreover, Ya Lesarat harshly slammed Hosseini and tried to take revenge for his protest. “Shahab Hosseini is currently in the United States and is busy with the bureaucracy of his residency and green card in order to join the dual citizenship holders of Iran’s cinema. … Mr. Shahab Hosseini doesn’t know that part of the money he received for playing in 'The Salesman' directly came from supporters of Daesh [Islamic State],” Ya Lesarat said.
In a wide-ranging interview aired on state television late Aug. 2, President Hassan Rouhani also spoke of “immorality in the media,” which could be interpreted as a reaction to Ya Lesarat al-Hussein. Rouhani said, “Regarding security, one of the important issues is morality. … No media, newspaper, person or tribune should tarnish the reputation of people.” He added, “If we do something in society so that insulters get isolated … then we have reached our supreme goal. Perhaps the administration should do more in regard to this.”
Indeed, experience has shown that these kinds of controversies ultimately serve to push the public further toward moderates and Reformists.
In an interview with Al-Monitor, prominent Reformist political analyst Saeed Leylaz said, “The goal of Ya Lesarat and [other] such publications is clear. They are seeking to radicalize the [social and political] atmosphere, because they have nothing to say in a calm situation. However, I believe these hard-line policies will lead to people’s hatred of them.” He added, “These actions will benefit Rouhani and the moderates, because the more people get turned away from the hard-liners, the more they get close to the Reformists and moderates.”
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